Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lessons learned this Christmas

We had a wonderful Christmas at the Klau house. But I feel compelled to share a few lessons learned this Christmas:

  • Amazon.com needs to mark their boxes as “wrapped” or “unwrapped”. There is nothing more annoying than opening a box with a gift for you in it, unwrapped… and no way to see who it’s from without reading the packing slip. (Corollary to this: it should be impossible to ship anything via Amazon.com in the weeks leading up to Christmas without having the items wrapped. But that’s anther matter.) Any box marked “wrapped” can safely be opened and stacked for the march up the stairs to the tree; anything marked “unwrapped” needs to be handled either by a neutral party or someone gets to bite the bullet and peek to see who it’s for.

  • The wonderful shipping desk at Kohls.com has apparently never celebrated Christmas or learned about the existence of “families”. My oldest son’s godparents sent a number of gifts via Kohls.com to our kids. There were several boxes in the shipment, so it seemed fair (especially once the boxes were opened and there were wrapped presents inside) that each package was for one child. Oh no. Each shipment contained multiple items — for different kids — wrapped as one “gift”. Try explaining to a three year-old boy why he’s just unwrapped a pink bib. Go ahead. Try it.

  • Wrapping gifts with your Dad (who’s visiting for the holiday) while drinking Guiness and watching Christmas Vacation is an excellent pre-Christmas tradition.

  • The kids’ ecstasy of opening lots of presents will be matched by your agony at bundling up the recycle (wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, toy boxes, shipping materials) and lugging it to the curb. The pile of recyclable paper at the curb will be orders of magnitude larger than the pile of gifts under your tree.

  • When winecountrygiftbaskets.com “guarantees” delivery before Christmas, what they mean to say is “it’ll probably arrive on or before New Year’s Day, unless it doesn’t; and if it doesn’t actually arrive before Christmas like we said it was guaranteed to, we’ll give you 5% off the order since we didn’t actually charge you for shipping and why are you complaining?”

What lessons did you learn?

Monday, December 26, 2005

iPod Video

The big gift under the tree this year was a video iPod, and I’m in love. I’ve already started loading it up with some video blogs, and I’m currently experimenting with the best way to rip DVDs to video that the iPod can see. So far, the easiest option seems to be PQ DVD, which will cost $35 if I want to rip more than 5-10 minutes at a time. An early test of the Springsteen Born to Run DVD seemed to convert pretty well.

Mark Pilgrim has a detailed how-to if you own a Mac, but of course, I don’t own a Mac. Engadget has a decent write-up on going a similar route with Windows, but I ran into a problem with DVDx that prevented me from proceeding (something about an “auth.dll” process not working), so I had to try something else. In the comments to the Engadget thread, there was a recommendation to use Fair Use Wizard, a free option but which takes a long (really long) time and my first test resulted in an unplayable file (codec problems).

Bottom line? Ripping video is clearly nowhere near as straightforward as ripping audio; it will likely (hopefully!) get easier. TiVo’s got a soon-to-be-released upgrade that will let me transfer my TiVo recordings to my iPod — which is a great answer for TV. Wonder whether iTunes will come up with a way to rip DVDs that’ll satisfy the studios but allow me to playback my movies on the device (you have to assume they will).

Anyone have any other recommendations for ripping video reliably to the iPod? I’m hesitant to pay for anything, since I assume that a future version of iTunes will include the ability to do this natively (though I could certainly be wrong).

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Funniest thing I've read in years

Oh my God, this post by Heather Armstrong (aka “Dooce”) will leave you gasping for air. Riotously funny.

Bush lies regarding wiretaps

DNC blog, giving us the President’s quote on April 20, 2004:

Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way.
New York Times article that broke the story on Friday about the Bush Administration wiretaps:
Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.
Lest the DNC be accused of fabricating the President’s quote, it’s currently available here at the White House website.

But remember, this is the guy restoring honor and dignity to the White House. When he lies, it’ll only be about national security, civil liberties or the Constitution. Not, you know, about a girlfriend. That, well, that’d be impeachable.

Performancing for Firefox

Om Malik on Broadband : » Performancing for Firefox, Awesome

In fact, if I have to use a PC, then this will be my choice of blogging application. Performancing for Firefox is just the kind of simple, lightweight application I had imagined was possible when researching my story, Microsoft’s Worst Nightmare.
Totally agree with Om: this is a fantastic Firefox plugin. Go to Performancing’s site for the plugin, you’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Four years

Wow, I almost forgot. I started this blog four years ago today. The blog is directly responsible for my last two jobs, led me to meet too many people to name individually who I know consider close friends, resulted in me meeting one presidential candidate, hosting a hopefully future presidential candidate in my family room, and has made me smarter, more curious, and more aware of just how much I don’t know.

Between my feed stats and my server logs, it appears that a little over 1000 people per day view the stuff I write. That’s more than a bit overwhelming when I think about it, and makes me grateful for the feedback, corrections, input and advice you’ve all provided over the years. Dan Gillmor often talks about how his readers are smarter than he is, and that’s surely the case here as well. Thanks for sharing your time with me, and for giving me a platform to speak from; I’ve wandered quite a bit over the last few years and will no doubt continue to float between technology, politics, law, business, and who knows what else. Thanks for sticking with me.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Patriot Act infinite loop

Brad Feld posts about the latest odd Patriot Act foolishness: the requirement for a non-PO Box mailing address. In Brad’s case, that’s impossible since he doesn’t have a physical mailing address. And, as he notes, it’s rather ironic, since the government won’t let you use a government-provided mailing address as your official mailing address. Seems like the government — which is worried about people spoofing their identity by hiding their address — could solve this issue by oh, I don’t know, maybe instructing those federal employees who work at the government agency to, well, have people who ask for PO Boxes to verify their identity in some meaningful way.

Brad’s figured out a solution to the problem, but isn’t spilling the beans.

This is how it starts, Brad. First stop, you’re fighting unseen powers in the government. Before long, you’re changing your identity and on the run from shadowy figures with bad accents who are hell-bent on destroying you. Then you have to change your identity, living your life on the run. Take solace in the fact that it’ll make good TV.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Duckworth website

Just found Tammy Duckworth’s website here. There’s some info on her stance on the issues, and a collection of news items as well. According to the events page, she’ll be doing her formal campaign kick-off at campaign headquarters in Lombard today at 1pm.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Scoble meets with Darcy Burner for breakfast

Darcy Burner is an ex-Microsoft employee who’s running for Congress in the 8th District in Washington. She dropped Scoble a note, and after meeting for breakfast, Scoble had a few suggestions for her about how to use the technology well. Scoble’s last comment caught my eye:

Oh, she did get something right, though. She promised me she’d keep blogging if she gets elected. Why is that important? The guy she’s running against has only come back twice to have a conversation with people in the home district.

Bing, bing, bing! Darcy is not Howard Dean (who never blogged himself and stopped talking with all of us after he lost the Iowa primary).

I left a somewhat lengthy comment, not so much to defend Dean as much as it was to articulate why I think Dean’s talking to supporters (or not talking, as the case may be) is kind of beside the point. Would be curious to hear your thoughts…

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Memo to DNC: Go get some coffee

The reactions to my comments about Tammy Duckworth’s campaign sure have been interesting. As expected, some of the comments (and private e-mails, of which there have been a number) express support for Christine and dismay at the DCCC’s handling of the race, a few have expressed support for Major Duckworth, and a few even addressed the substance of what I was writing about: the ham-handed efforts by a couple of local party officials to restrict Duckworth’s ability to solicit support at party functions.

And then there was this comment left earlier today by “Lisa”, who says she lives in Melissa Bean’s district and lays out why she thinks Duckworth is the right candidate. Interestingly, the IP address associated with Lisa’s computer is owned by the Democratic National Committee headquarters:

OrgName: Democratic National Headquarters

Address: 430 S. Capitol St. SE – 2nd Floor
City: Washington
StateProv: DC
PostalCode: 20003
Country: US

Next time the DNC wants to leave comments here (and they’re certainly welcome to!) but don’t want people to know that it’s the DNC, maybe they should use a Starbucks hotspot so the IP address won’t immediately identify the DNC


Update: The DCCC is located on the 2nd floor of the building, so it’s entirely likely that this comment is from the DCCC and not the DNC

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

What Erik's learned

Erik’s post today on lessons he’s learned is just a terrific read. There are any number of things the Internet’s made possible in my life — but meeting Erik and counting him as one of my closest friends is certainly at the top of that list. I feel quite fortunate to have known Erik for the last 11 years (though it was nearly 2 years before we met face to face), and that we’ve been writing partners throughout almost that entire time. I don’t know that I can say it’s Erik’s best writing — that’s a pretty crowded collection — but it’s certainly well worth the time to read.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Tammy Duckworth running for Congress

Update 12/19/05: Lots of incoming traffic looking for info on Maj. Duckworth. Her campaign website is here, ArchPundit interviews Tammy here (follow the links to snippets from the interview), and Rich at Capitol Fax interviewed her on Friday, details (and lots of comments) are here.

As many readers of this blog know, when not running around the country spreading the good word about RSS, I’m also politically active in Naperville, the city where I live. My original involvement started with the Dean campaign, then transitioned to more local actions on behalf of a number of local and state candidates. That led to being asked to run the local Democratic party, something I’ve done for the past 18 months.

My tenure as party chair has been mixed with success and failure, as any political endeavor is likely to be. But I’m proud of the fact that we’ve brought more people to the process, encouraged vigorous debate on issues that matter to our members, and provided a forum for people from various points of view to engage our members.

Rumors started swirling a few weeks ago that Rahm Emanuel, the chair of the DCCC (the campaign committee in Congress) and the lead recruiter for Congressional candidates nationwide, had found a candidate to run in the 6th District, the seat that Henry Hyde is leaving next fall. Christine Cegelis, a friend of mine and someone who I’ve periodically counseled in her race, ran against Hyde in 2004 and won 44% of the vote — an impressive showing for a first-time candidate. She’s running again, has an active volunteer base behind her, and has raised a decent amount of money so far. I say “decent” in that it’s more than she raised last time around, and it’s definitely not a paltry sum. But she’s spent a lot of it (often considered a no-no this early in a campaign), and it’s not as much as is often believed to be needed to run competitively (especially when the Republican opponent has raised quite a bit more).

The candidate Rahm found is Tammy Duckworth, a decorated Iraq war hero who lost both legs in a Blackhawk helicopter accident (she was the pilot). More on Tammy here, here and here. Rahm’s calculations here are that the Democrats need to throw a well-funded, nationally-recognizable candidate into the race, and fears Christine is not the right candidate for that role . That’s disappointing to me personally — I like Christine, like the campaign she ran in 2004, and feel she’d represent the 6th District well in Congress.

But I’m appalled by what some local Democrats are doing to try and sabotage Duckworth’s campaign before it gets out of the gate. I received an e-mail last night that copied me in on a letter written to Duckworth (and Emanuel). Written by a fellow local party chair and speaking on behalf of the entire township party, the letter starts out by saying Duckworth’s campaign is “emphatically unwelcome” and calling Duckworth a “carpet bagger” (she doesn’t live in the 6th District — a curious complaint, as I don’t remember many Democrats worried about the fact that Melissa Bean doesn’t live in her district). The letter goes on to express a lack of support for her campaign, and while she is welcome to attend this group’s upcoming meeting, “please be aware though that Duckworth’s campaign workers will not be allowed to speak nor will they be allowed to appear in her behalf.”

You can see some other reactions from local Democrats by visiting Daily Kos’s Tammy Duckworth page. Many of the reactions are of the “how dare Emmanuel decide who can run”, “why meddle in this race”, and “why fight Christine’s grassroots support” type. I just don’t get this. Why does Emmanuel get involved? Because he wants to win, and he’s not sure Christine can win. Congressional candidates need a million dollars or more to be successful, and Christine’s fundraising to date certainly leaves open the question whether she can get there. (Could she do better with institutional support? Sure. But could someone else bring more to the table? Maybe. That’s what Emmanuel’s trying to do.) Why meddle in the race? Because he wants to win. Local Democrats should want the same thing: to win. If Christine’s the right candidate to win, great. That’s why we have primaries: determine who’s the best candidate to represent the party, then go into the general election to let the voters decide who’s the best candidate to represent the district.

I was asked to join this party chair in barring Duckworth from running for Congress, something I absolutely refused to do. Here’s the text of the letter I sent in response to that request:

I appreciate [his] position, and though I’ve supported Christine’s campaigns (2004 and 2006), I do not see the basis for challenging Tammy’s right to run. It’s not my position to do so, and I’m strongly in favor of quality candidates who want to serve the party and their constituents. Do I know whether Tammy’s the right candidate? No. But I think it’s her job to make that case, not someone else’s job to shut down that avenue for her. As for the residency requirement, that’s a non-issue. We didn’t complain when Melissa Bean lived outside of her district, and there is no residency requirement written anywhere that says you must live in the district you run in.

I want to see Christine win in the primary, and beat Roskam. But the way to get her there is not to remove potential competitors. It’s to win by attracting a higher percentage of the vote than any competitors, and by outraising her competition. Shutting down potential competitors before they’ve had a chance to establish their fitness for the position is undemocratic, unfair and ultimately irresponsible.

Local Democrats should be thrilled that this race will now receive higher visibility, more money, and greater attention from state and national Democrats. Christine has been running for two years, which gives her a big head start (more than 1,000 contributors in this election cycle alone, hundreds of volunteers, some early endorsements). She’s a committed candidate, has assembled a good team around her and is working hard to win. I understand her supporters wishing they didn’t have an opponent in the primary, but for a party chair to try and rig the primary to remove any competition just because he disagrees with Emmanuel’s assessment of Christine’s chances is inexcusable.

We’re better than that. Or, I hoped we were.

Update: Michael at Damn Liberals disagrees with me here.

Late update: One Man weighs in.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

San Francisco to ban video cameras

OK, San Francisco isn’t actually banning video cameras. But perhaps there should be an IQ test before obtaining one. Remember the 49ers video debacle this summer? (If not, there’s some background from Cyberjournalist.net here.)

With that fresh in their minds, you’d think that San Franciscans would be a bit gunshy about pulling a similar stunt, just a few months after the 49ers had to fire some personnel and take a considerable amount of heat from local officials. Right?

You’d be wrong. Now the city is suspending 20 cops for a rather similar scenario. Unreal.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Congress Voting Records in RSS

Almost exactly 3 years ago, Jen Klyse came up with a cool idea: create RSS feeds for members of Congress. She didn’t end up developing the concept, but it looks like the Washington Post just did. Here’s Barack Obama’s voting feed. Very cool.

Hat tip to 37 Signals for catching this (and Eric Olson for pointing out the 37Signals post).

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Crazy busy

Just got back from a crazy couple of days in Los Angeles. Scary stat of the day? I flew four hours from L.A. to Chicago tonight, and the air temp dropped 80 degrees. Whoa.

Last night started out strong — I got to have dinner with a former co-worker, John Lipsey, who just bought a place in the Hollywood Hills (nextdoor neighbor? Danny Bonaduce) — and just got better. In the middle of dinner, I got a call on my cell from David Lawrence, who invited me to join him on his nightly radio show, so I ended up finishing the evening with an hour in studio on The David Lawrence show, talking about FeedBurner, the dubious flurry of stories about “podjacking” (kudos to David for digging into that particular story) and the state of feeds in general. Other than David’s odd fascination with my shaving habits (sorry, you’ll just have to listen), it was a great time, followed by a great meal (yes, I had two dinners last night – is that an L.A. thing?). David’s a fascinating guy — and I hope I get to visit him again on the show.

Today was a flurry of meetings, followed by a mad-dash to LAX. When I got to the rental return at 3:45 (for a 4:25 flight), I was sure I’d miss my flight and end up on the red eye. A nearly 15 minute shuttle bus to the terminal would seem to have sealed it. But then it was a total of five minutes from shuttle bus to check-in, security, and gate — something I thought I’d never again experience post 9/11. I even had time to buy a book before the flight (State of Fear by Michael Crichton, which, in spite of my Democratic leanings, I’m really enjoying). Nuts.

I’m in the office tomorrow, and for those of you in Chicago who might be interested, I’m speaking at the Publicity Club of Chicago on Thursday with the Tribune’s Eric Zorn about podcasting, blogging and RSS. I’ve never met Eric, should be a lot of fun.

Next week, Syndicate in San Francisco, then rumor has it a holiday when I can catch my breath.

Must… sleep…

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Kevin Kuwik on his way home

Kevin Kuwik, the Ohio assistant basketball coach who got called up to Iraq last year (rather unexpectedly), is coming home from Iraq, most likely early this week. Very, very good news.

Welcome home, Kevin!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

On Start-ups

While on the subject of start-ups, some more invaluable links:

Great stuff, all around.


Fascinating, insightful group blog by a bunch of Google alumni. It’s an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to understand about how start-ups grow, build the team, etc. Perhaps most revealing for me are the hiccups. In a young start-up, every misstep feels like you’re on the verge of failure. Once you read this post, it’s a little easier to put things into perspective about those mistakes. It doesn’t excuse them — they’re never fun when they happen.

Great stuff. Wanna bet this turns into a book?

Welcome aboard!

A hearty welcome to the newest member of the team, Eric Olson. Eric will be helping me out as we bring more publishers on board at FeedBurner, help I desperately need! I’m excited to have Eric join the team.

In related news, we’re hiring again. Check out our jobs page. If you’re in the Chicago area (or willing to join us here in the frozen tundra), please drop us a line. I’m particularly interested in seeing the customer account manager roles filled; if that job description sounds like you, drop us a line or contact me for more details.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

File under No Shit, Sherlock

From MSNBC comes this painfully obvious video teaser:


Makes you pine for the days of yore when you could bring your automatic weapons to the airport without concern about those pesky security guards separating you from your dear weapon.

Leave your own captions or guesses at what might be in the transcript of the video in the comments.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Subscribe to this blog by e-mail

I’ve been meaning to add this in for a while… Several months ago we announced a partnership with FeedBlitz, a company that makes it easy to subscribe to an RSS feed via e-mail. FeedBlitz setup is now integrated into your FeedBurner account, so turning this on if you’re a FeedBurner user is a one-click process.

Not sure how many of you will want this, but it certainly can’t hurt. If you’d prefer to receive e-mails whenever this site is updated, just type your e-mail address in below and you should start hearing from FeedBlitz.

Powered by FeedBlitz

Monday, November 21, 2005

On the stability of Windows XP

Courtesy of the indispensable ActiveWords comes this gem. One thing ActiveWords does is monitor which applications I launch frequently, then, on start-up or reboot, ask me if I’d like to assign a short-cut to auto-launch these applications. Sadly, this is one case where the answer is an emphatic NO



At the top of my holiday wishlist

Sorry for the light posting. You’d think that with all the not-sleeping I’m doing these days that I’d have plenty of time for blogging. Instead, I’m mostly just trying to get my daughter to sleep. Either that, or complaining to Robin, which doesn’t make much sense since she’s getting less sleep than I am. Nevertheless, we’re all deliriously happy with our little one, who’s already over 4 weeks old. How time flies. (Or not, due to the whole lack of sleep thing. But you get the idea.)

Anyway, the point of this post: Dana Stevens at Slate just wrote about what is sure to be at the top of my Christmas wish list, the Mike Judge Collection of Beavis & Butt-Head. Juvenile humor? You bet. But other than having kids, the only other significant stretch of weeks without much sleep was when I was in law school. And when B&B came on at 11pm, it was about the only respite from endless reading of Torts, CivPro, Property and any number of other classes.

It would be fun to see the boys again after a decade…

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

TiVo Netflix RSS Reader

From Hacking Netflix:

TiVo Netflix RSS Reader

Bitrazor.com has created a Netflix RSS reader for TiVo users. Not sure how easy it is to install (I don’t have a TiVo… yet), but it looks very cool: screenshots.


Has anyone with a TiVo tried this?

I haven’t, but will definitely check it out. Seems very cool.

Hackathon II: Night of the Living Hack

We had our second Hackathon last week, where us non-programmers handle the support desk while the code jockeys create more cool stuff to add to the product. The results are really cool — if you’re using FeedBurner, there’s bound to be a few cool wins in there for you to enjoy.

Nice work to the development team, this kind of rapid innovation is just one more reason to enjoy working here.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

TPM turns 5

Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo turns five years old today. TPM is the rarest of blogs: it often contains original reporting and it enjoys widespread respect among the mainstream media. Most importantly, Josh has done a great job staying on top of stories that don’t always receive a lot of initial attention, only to see them blossom into stories attracting national interest (Trent Lott and the outing of Valerie Plame are just two such examples; the brewing Abramoff corruption scandal and the Italian connection to the Niger forgeries are two recent stories almost certain to follow the same pattern).

Congrats, Josh! Keep up the great work.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Congratulations to Joi

Wow, Joi should definitely put this at the top of his resume.

Congrats, Joi! Couldn’t happen to a better woman man.

Peter Drucker, RIP

I’ve written about Peter Drucker quite a bit in the past: here, here, here, and here. He was the first to understand the concept of a “knowledge worker” (he coined the term), and foresaw the significant ramifications of that evolution. His Wikipedia bio is here, for those that want to know a bit more about him.

He passed away yesterday at the age of 95. From the Trib article:

Contrary to the Henry Ford approach of breaking down tasks assembly-line style, Drucker understood how managers could motivate workers to use their heads on the job, said John Edwardson, chief executive of Vernon Hills-based CDW Corp.

“The militaristic way of running your company is not the best way,” Edwardson said. “He got a lot of people thinking about relating to people differently and motivating people differently. So much of what we do today is so infused with what he did.”

Update: Via Ross, I see that Drucker’s grandson, Nova Spivack, wrote up a brief remembrance of Drucker’s passing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

FEMA is on the line: what kind of trailer would you like?

Ernie shares his latest New Orleans adventure, this time dealing with FEMA:

Yesterday I got a call from FEMA.  The representative asked if I was still displaced from my home.  I told her that I had been back in my house for about a month (I guess the house call that FEMA rep Chloe made hadn’t been entered into the master computer yet – see prior my post on this).  Undaunted by this information she proceeded to read the next question on her list: "Would you like FEMA to provide you with a trailer to live in?"

"No," I explained with a higher pitch in my voice. "My house is fine," adding "but I know people who do need a FEMA trailer."  She had run out of questions and so she wished me well and hung up.

I wish FEMA well too.  What I really wish, though, is that FEMA would figure out how to process information better.  Can’t they run my zip code and see I live in an area where NO ONE is likely to qualify for a trailer.  Can their computer parse information by zip code?  If so then they should zero in on 70043 and 70044 (the St. Bernard area).  Or perhaps 70124 (Lakeview)?  I’m pretty sure there  are a lot of people in those zip codes that need trailers. [ Ernie the Attorney ]

Can’t wait to see Ernie this week at BlawgThink, which I’ve been remiss in posting about (have I mentioned I’ve been busy?) but am excited about catching up with a whole bunch of friends.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Busy times at FeedBurner

I mentioned the other day we’ve been busy; announcements yesterday and today give you an idea of what we’re up to. Brad Feld, who sits on our board, talked about what he thinks this means, and Frank Gruber shares some of his thoughts as well as links to a number of comments about the recent news.

We’re excited about what we’ve built over the course of this year, and what’s even more energizing is that this is just a beginning. The bottom line is that publishers, as they recognize that their print circulation represents a declining audience, need the web to sustain innovation. I’ve been in the publishing business in one shape or another for the last ten years — as a publisher, an author, a columnist, a designer, even a would-be programmer. Today I’m in a wonderful position, talking to publishers of all kinds — from weblog networks to large newspapers, and seemingly everyone in between. And instead of waiting for the technology to develop, they’re actively working to integrate it into their business.

That rocks.

More tornadoes possible

Tom Skilling advises today that more tornadoes are possible, and that they often happen at night. Three days ago, a tornado ripped through southern Indiana, killing 22 people. This graf caught Robin’s eye:

Authorities said that sirens blared in many of the communities and that the emergency broadcast system was activated to alert people to the coming storm, but officials believe many people slept through the warnings or could not hear the sirens because of the winds.

Yesterday afternoon I ordered the First Alert WX-167 emergency weather radio for a little under $50; thanks to the free trial of Amazon Prime they gave me, $3.99 has it arriving later today. It’ll sound an alarm inside the house if a tornado warning has been issued by NOAA, and seems to have some great features (rechargeable battery slots, so it’ll keep the batteries charged, then run off batteries in the event of a power outage), ability to localize the receiver so you can receive alerts from neighboring counties (and ignore alerts from counties/areas that don’t matter).

Seems like a small price to pay to keep the family safe.

Monday, November 7, 2005

Barack is on The Daily Show tonight

So the earlier reports of his appearance on the Daily Show being cancelled were premature… turns out that both host and guest wanted to make it happen, so they’re doing it via satellite tonight. Won’t be quite the same, but will still be fun to see our Senator on America’s finest fake news show.

Friday, November 4, 2005

Zogby boldly declares victory for Santos

Looks like Zogby had a few interns that needed a project to keep them busy: in the world of fake politics, it would appear that Matt Santos is going to spank Arnold Vinick whenever West Wing airs its election.

Sunday’s live debate should be fun. But do we really need this:

Immediately following Sunday’s live debate, Zogby International will conduct another poll across America to determine who viewers believe won the event, and to see how presidential preferences changed as a result of it.

We have The Daily Show for fake news, now we have real polls for fake politics. Go figure.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Mike Tyson and Bobby Brown sing the Monster Mash

Originally spotted at Deadspin, you absolutely must drop what you’re doing and head on over to ESPN.com, who’s got the video. It’s real. And frightening. (And, ultimately, even funnier than Mr. T’s ode to motherhood.)

You’re welcome.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming

Wow, time sure flies with a newborn in the house and the busiest period yet at work. I’ll probably get back to normal by next week, there’s a ton going on I want to throw in my $.02. In the meantime, a few quick comments:

  • The baby and her Mom are both doing great. Having a newborn in the house (especially one who actually sleeps a bit at night) is a real joy. And her brothers adore her.

  • Got a Netflix subscription for my birthday. I first used Netflix in 2000 when living in California, it’s stunning how improved it is. If any of you are using it, feel free to add me to your friends list, that seems to be a good way to compare notes on good movies.

  • I’m loving, absolutely loving, my new camera. Got the telephoto lens adapter for it, so now I have a 5.1 megapixel camera that has 18x optical zoom (that’s a 648mm equivalent lens for you 35mm SLR fans), takes video, includes an image stabilizer and takes beautiful pictures. I’ve uploaded a handful to my flickr account, feel free to check them out.

And a big, big thank you to all of you who sent such kind words after Rebecca’s birth. It’s so fun to hear from such a wide array of people, and I’m fortunate to have met many of you over the years I’ve been blogging. This blog has taken quite a few turns – from business and law, to tech, to politics, to personal stuff, back to tech — and miraculously, a fair number of you stick around. Thanks — it means a lot.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

October month in review

Eric Zorn e-mailed me a couple weeks ago to participate in his popular month in review series, in which he surveys various Illinois bloggers for perspectives on which were the important stories of the month. With apologies to Eric (who, it should be noted, was warned this might happen), my suggestions are rather inwardly focused:

Most Significant Story of the Month:The birth of Rebecca Adeline Klau
Winner of the Month:Rebecca Adeline Klau, who already has her father tied around her finger
Loser of the Month:Me, who breaks into a cold sweat thinking about a teenaged daughter (that this moment is 13 years away is no consolation whatsoever)
Most Under-Reported Story:Quite possible I missed any MSM coverage of her birth, but I’d have to say that the calls from the press about Rebecca’s birth were shockingly few (er, none)
Most Over-Reported Story:Something about a baseball team happened this week, I’m sure of it… I swear I heard someone talking about it on the radio as I changed Becca’s diaper at 3 this morning.
Story to Watch in the Coming Month:Will Rick ever get sleep again?

Like I said, apologies in advance to Eric for bailing on this. But I haven’t seen a paper or followed the news much in the past week, and my view of things has been more than a bit myopic for the past 7 days. If I’m invited to participate again (what are the odds?!), I promise to devote more time to it. Really.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Rebecca Adeline Klau

Born this morning at 7:34am, Rebecca Adeline Klau:


6 pounds, 15 ounces and 19 inches long. Mom and baby are doing wonderfully, as soon as her oldest brother gets home from kindergarten, the boys get to go meet their new sister.

Exciting times!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

New camera

In anticipation of our upcoming arrival, I brought home a new Canon S2 IS digital camera. It’s not an SLR — those are still a bit pricey for my tastes, and I likely wouldn’t take full advantage anyway… I’ve been out of the camera saddle for too long, spoiled by years of point-and-shoot.

This camera sure appears to have the goods — and in reading through the manual (you know I’m serious when I do that!), it’s occurring to me just how much I’ve forgotten about how to take a good picture. Exposure bracketing, flash adjustments… not to mention all the tweaks that are possible with this kind of camera that weren’t even thinkable a mere 10 years ago (the last time I really used an SLR).

Anyone care to point me in the direction of good sites, books, downloads I should be looking at to get back up to speed?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Erik Heels on Tim McCarver

Erik Heels: “When I was a kid, my cat chewed up Tim McCarver’s baseball card. Smart cat.”

The heard word

These days it’s old news to say that marketing is a conversation, and that companies who ignore the blogosphere do so at their peril. (See Jarvis, Jeff for more.) Along with several other co-workers at FeedBurner, I’ve made monitoring the blogosphere part of my routine, thanks largely to services like Technorati. By setting up saved searches in Technorati, I can see whenever anyone around the world talks about FeedBurner — whether they’re in Norway, Delaware Australia (see comments), or more recently, Australia. (OK, so with the update it seems like they talk about us a lot in Australia. There are other examples, but most of them involve languages I don’t speak. Sue me.)

It’s that most recent comment from Australia on Sunday night that is a textbook example of why engaging people is so important. In this case, Vicki opted to leave FeedBurner, in part because our explanation of how we help people leave the service confused her — and appeared to be only available if you pay us. (To be clear: it’s not.) I commented on her blog, then we followed up with an IM session where I figured out where the confusion stemmed from, and was able to clarify for her how things worked.

Result? In just two days, Vicki went from an unsatisfied user to a very satisfied user. What’s most intriguing is how universally positive people are about this kind of engagement, regardless of their feelings about FeedBurner in general. This isn’t particularly hard — it doesn’t take a lot of time, and it’s nothing but upside for us as a business. We rely on positive word of mouth, and when we see anything that asks a question or (gasp!) complains, we make sure they hear from us in a constructive way.

I’m certain this will be standard fare in a few years for marketers, but it’s surprisingly still the exception rather than the norm. And the more uninformed (or misinformed) information that stays out there unrefuted, the more likely it is to spread, and do real damage to the company. By contrast, simple corrections generate tremendous goodwill, and may even win over some users that might have stayed away. Seems like a no-brainer.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Giving gVisit a try

gVisit.com is quite cool: insert a line of javascript in your website HTML, and it’ll spit out a Google mash-up of your website traffic against a map of the world.

Here’s mine.


Favorite new blog

I’ve been following the Long or Short? blog for a few months now, and it’s absolutely hysterical.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

ProgressNow gets some ink

My friend Bobby Clark gets some nice press in today’s Washington Post. Bobby’s the executive director at ProgressNow, whose website is geared towards organizing activists at the state and local level. This is exactly the kind of thing that is needed at a state level.

Uptake has been slight so far, but I think they’re poised for great success in the upcoming year. Best of luck to Bobby, and congrats on the good press!

Friday, October 7, 2005

Let the bidding begin...

According to Tristan Louis’s great analysis of the AOL acquisition of Weblogs, Inc., each inbound link at Technorati is worth around $564.

Which means that my blog is worth around $150,000. Send your offers to rick at rklau.com.


Update: Technorati just tweaked its index, and now says there are 413 inbound links, which means the price has jumped to $232,932. I tell you – if want to get in on the tins juggernaut, now’s the time. Price is only going up folks.


Interview on PC Talk

A couple weeks ago I spent an hour in a wide-ranging interview about RSS, podcasting, advertising, and a whole bunch of other things related to FeedBurner. The interview, which airs nationally on Rich Levin’s PC Talk Radio program, is available online here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

WeMedia -- We Market

Rich Skrenta talks about how they launched Topix with one IM to my buddy Mike Masnick at TechDirt, Mike blogged it, and from there it launched the company. Gave the company immediate credibility from subsequent Google searches once journalists got pitched, then wanted to do due diligence before deciding to write about the company.

John Bell (Ogilvy PR) sees this is a chance for companies to become more transparent. There’s a real split in their client base: those who are ready to make that leap, and those who are resisting; sees Ogilvy’s role as helping advise clients about what that transition might look like.

[Side note: when conferences are so Internet-oriented, they should have someone to the side of the stage plugged into the monitors visiting websites, or at least typing out URLs, in real time as they’re mentioned. How many people here know that “Scobleizer” is actually Robert Scoble’s blog, and that he works for Microsoft?]

Henry Copeland just had a unique suggestion: bait some “idiot opponents” into hating you, which drives people to your defense, which raises the volume of discussion about your product/service/etc. (My observation: that’s precisely why existing, established companies have such a hard time working with blogs. That’s just so counter-intuitive…)

WeMedia -- We Invest

Susan Mernit asks why the investing and acquisitions are going to tools and platforms and not content/media. Rick Ducey says that the infrastructure changes the dynamics of how people participate, how content gets contributed. The platform drives the business model.

Paul Gionocchio points out that the newspapers are investing in the new media plays, in part because of the declining readership in their print publications. Points to Greensboro News & Record embracing blogs, it’s hard for publishers to have such a paradigm shift (from one-way conversation to a dialogue), but that they’re starting to see how much higher the page views are (which means that the inventory goes up).

Brad Feld — “in the 20 years I’ve been doing this, one thing has stayed the same: computers and software suck.” The challenge is that the content’s easy to create — organizing it, filtering it, etc. is hard. Platforms are necessary to streamline that. Google demonstrated the value of a business that’s 100% automated.

Brad Burnham takes a different view from Feld. Suggests that Skype’s acquisition — in light of Microsoft and Yahoo building their own VoIP apps — was about more than just the technology. Questions whether Google’s automated — pagerank, after all, piggybacks on people making links. If you try and build a network, can you really sell a network? The network isn’t owned by the platform company, it’s owned by the community — and if the network is sold to the evil empire, will the community sustain the network?

Feld “violently agrees” with Brad Burnham. Building a network — to the scale of tens of millions of people — brings its own revenue opportunities down the road.

Rafat Ali (from PaidContent.org) from the audience says that VCs don’t understand content, they understand technology. Feld says early advice he got was to invest in core technology that’s hard to duplicate — and uses the bubble from ’97 to 2001 as an example: after focusing on core tech, they started investing in a lot of things that looked like content (pets.com, wine.com anyone?).

Interesting back-and-forth discussing the difference between media and technology. Burnham: traditional models for investing in tech and media don’t work moving forward; services that enable those models are where the next phase of funding will focus. Ducey is similarly interested in middleware. Gionocchio: aggregating small audiences. Feld: stuff today that’s being used by a small number of people where the interaction is automated and user-generated are where the next stage of growth comes from.

WeMedia -- Al Gore

Al’s giving a fiery talk about how broken the marketplace of ideas is. I’ll leave the live-blogging to others (I’ll compile links shortly), but it’s an intriguing topic — especially considering the audience.

I wonder how many times Jon Stewart is going to be mentioned today: we’re up to four times in the first two sessions.

Update: Good coverage by Susan Mernit, video highlights from Andy Carvin and podcast.

Morph - live blogging WeMedia

John Burke is live blogging the sessions right next to me on Morph, one of the Media Center’s blogs. He’s much better at taking notes than I am. Guess that’s why he’s at the AP and I’m not.

Update: Andy Carvin is also doing a great job on his blog taking notes on the sessions.

WeMedia -- WeNews

Richard Samborn, BBC: BBC is shifting from broadcaster to aggregator to facilitator. Notes that the strength of the news organization depends entirely on its relationship with the public.

Tom Curley, AP: We’re in a business-to-business model, we intend to stay in a b2b model. Notes that costs are driving access: HD cameras used to cost 400k, now they’re 4k.

What’s next for AP? A youth product, just launched, aimed at the 18-35 segment. Huh. With a third kid on the way and my 34th birthday at the end of the month, I don’t feel young. ;)

There are two artists who are drawing on a mural on the far side of the room throughout the entire presentation. I can’t see what’s there yet, but it’s fascinating to watch the images and words develop.

Chills - Citizen Generated Images

Tom Curley, CEO of AP, just did a collection of citizen-generated media that has become iconic in our generation. The images included the photo of the Concorde that blew up, the jet before hitting tower two, the tube after the bombing, the American soldiers storming Elian Gonzalez’s hiding place, and video from vacationers during the tsunami. All stunning, instantly memorable images — and it had never occurred to me that every one was taken by a citizen, not by a pro.

(Interesting side-note: the video, which we’d all seen before, was heavily edited before airing at the time. The full video includes the Dad, with thick British accent, saying “Jesus Christ.” Followed by his son (I’d guess 8 or so), mimicing his Dad. Then “Bloody hell.” Again, mimicked by his son. Then “Fucking hell” which the son wisely didn’t mimic.)

WeMedia Stats run-down

Interesting, in the intro video at WeMedia, these are the stats they’ve quoted:

  • Daily Kos weblog gets 700,000 daily visits. (It’s actually 750,000, but that’s still a huge number.) I’m sending Markos an e-mail right now, he’ll get a kick out of being the representative weblog at an AP conference.

  • Dawn & Drew podcast has 200,000 daily listeners.

  • Wikis take off, leading to 1.3m articles in 100 languages. (That actually seems low to me.)

  • Technorati tracks 19m weblogs (as of 8am this morning – gotta love on-the-fly PowerPoint)

  • 80,000 weblogs are created every day

(Lots of other stats quoted, I am clearly out of practice live-blogging conferences.)

The video says that people are increasingly asking the news orgs to predict the future, that things are uncertain. Then, they suggest that “we already know where this leads” —

  • One world

  • Many voices

And one thing I’ve already learned? Listening to a hip-hop song with a sinus infection just further aggravates an already annoying situation.


I’m at the WeMedia conference today hosted at the Associated Press building. Al Gore is the keynote speaker, he’s on in a little over an hour. I’ll check in during the day…

Friday, September 30, 2005

Barack Obama speaks up on partisan politics

Someone asked me the other day whether I had political aspirations. I answered that I don’t, at least not for a long time — but I did say that I’ll do whatever I can to ensure that Barack Obama is elected president as soon as possible.

Today, in a diary post over at Daily Kos, he responds (and I have it on good authority it was all written by him) to recent criticism of a number of Democrats by various advocacy groups on the left. And it just reinforces my belief that he would be a spectacular leader running our country. While 2008 may not be the right time for him, I think the country would be well served with him at the helm. I’m not excerpting anything from the post — take a few minutes out and read the whole thing.

And while we’re on the subject, yes, I’m quite proud of this. :)

Friday, September 23, 2005

Link love

Any man who calls me God is OK in my book. I’m not entirely sure what I’ve done to earn such high praise, but it sure made my Friday. Rich, for the three of you left in Illinois who don’t know, consistently writes the best insider’s look at Illinois politics. It’s not only where the news is discussed, but increasingly frequently, it’s where the news is made. (On more than one occasion, comments to posts at Rich’s blog have generated AP stories about brewing controversies in the hallowed halls of Illinois government.)

Many thanks for the kind words, Rich. Keep up the great work!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Recording Skype calls into MP3

A number of people have asked how I recorded the call with Chris Batty at Gawker last week for the FeedBurner podcast. I figured a quick recap was in order. The issue, for those who care, is that you need some way to capture both audio streams (your voice as well as the audio coming in from Skype), and Windows by default has no simple way to mix those streams into one channel that a recorder can handle. Consequently, Audacity (my audio editor of choice) can only record one stream at a time.

What’s most surprising is how difficult the “simple” instructions are online. Some ideas I found and discarded, due to complexity and/or reliability:

  • running multiple profiles in Windows XP, installing “virtual audio cables” and conferencing the profiles together via Skype.

  • on-the-fly tweaking of Windows audio properties, or (in the comments), connecting multiple computers via audio cables

Other ideas involved some variations on those themes, but the bottom line was that none of them were simple, nor (in my quick testing) reliable. Fortunately I stumbled upon HotRecorder — a very simple, very inexpensive application that just works. It acts as a helper app for Skype (and, for those who care, Google Talk, AIM, Net2Phone, Yahoo! Messenger and Firefly). Not only will it record Skype calls (amazingly, by just hitting the record button! Can you imagine? No cabling, multiple computers, or anything else!), it also serves as a voicemail application for supported apps. The recordings can then be saved and exported to various formats (current supported formats are Wav and Ogg Vorbis), which can be manipulated in whatever sound editor you favor.

The application costs $15, and once installed it’s available with one click. In the case of the phone call with Chris last week, I started the call, then once we were connected, clicked record in Hot Recorder. That’s it. It’s simple, dirt-cheap, and it works. A much better answer in my book than trying to route around all of the issues addressed in the complicated pages above.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Uhhh... Did I learn nothing as a college disc jockey?

It’s official, episode 1 of the FeedBurner Podcast is now live, hosted by yours truly. I say “uh” quite a bit. On the positive side, doing an interview via Skype, recording the call and getting into MP3 couldn’t be easier. Pretty slick.

It’s a start, but there’s lots of room for improvement. If you’re a FeedBurner user and want to send us your thoughts, give me a call on Skype or send us an e-mail at podcast-at-feedburner.com.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Mirra acquired by Seagate

Wow, Seagate just acquired Mirra. I’ve written about the Mirra here. Great news, congrats to the Mirra team!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

NJ Governor's race gets HOT

I’m admittedly not a campaign veteran, so it’s entirely possible that porn has been used in a campaign ad before. (Not likely, but, who am I to state it categorically?) But I think I’m safe in saying it’s probably the first time that porn has been used in an online effort to help get out the vote.

If you dare, here’s the campaign ad from Michael Latigona, independent candidate for NJ governor. It’s all there: sex, bribery, corruption… I’ve never, ever seen anything like this.

And hopefully never will again.

Update: Received an e-mail from someone at “dudenj@*******.net” claiming to be from the campaign. They’ve asked that I remove a claim that the animation contains racial slurs. I’ve watched it again, and agree that my characterization was a bit harsher on that point than the animation warranted. Character assassination? Yes. Racial stereotyping? (A la Italians as 20s gangsters.) Yes. But racial slurs? No, I guess not. So, wish granted — I’ve removed that from the original language above.

Oh — and they also dispute my use of the word porn. “this is not porn, and is nothing worse than is on TV. It is risque, but certainly not porn.” I guess if your campaign has to argue whether or not an ad they’ve put out is porn, the campaign is no longer focused on issues that matter. They’d like me to point out that on the candidate’s website, there’s a lengthy (and boy, do I mean lengthy) defense of the animation. Judge for yourself…

One final comment — in that defense of the animation, Michael claims that those of us who claimed offense at the ad are hypocrites: there’s a novel concept. I never said Michael couldn’t do what he did, I said he shouldn’t. And I hope others choose not to. There’s no honor in heaping scorn on your opponents, questioning others’ motives, railing at the media, and belittling those of us who question your tactics. And it’s almost certainly not the way to win an election.

Caption contest

OK, this picture has stunned me into abject horror. As I type this, I’m curled into a fetal position, wondering how in the world this can possibly be real. And yet, there it is:


Source: Reuters. Really. The Reuters caption, for the record:

U.S. President George W. Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14, 2005. World leaders are exploring ways to revitalize the United Nations at a summit on Wednesday but their blueprint falls short of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s vision of freedom from want, persecution and war.

If you dig a hole...

My new favorite Google mash-up: dig a hole from your house and figure out where you’d come out if you kept digging, straight down.

Love it. (Originally seen at OnSquared.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

We're hiring

If you’re in the Chicago area and are interested in working for a fast-growing company that’s got the locals all a-buzz, then you should drop us a line. We’re got a number of positions open, including one working with me on the business development side. (Whether that’s a pro or con is not my place to judge.)

Who’s the ideal candidate for the business development position? If you’re a hungry, Internet-savvy individual who likes working with tech-oriented customers, you’ve got a good start. You’ve probably got a few years of sales or business development background, you can not only spell API and RSS, you know what they mean (and why they matter). You probably know that flickr doesn’t have an ‘e’, you know where the periods go in delicious’s maddening URL, and you don’t get a quizzical look on your face when someone says “web 2.0”. You can work on deadline, like to have fun, and are willing to use a PC so you can help me keep the PC/Mac balance in the office just right. (We might be flexible on that last point.)

If any of this sounds like you, send me a note at rickk@feedburner.com. Thanks.


Steve defines skeptorati. Yeah, I know the type.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Brian Williams blogging the news

If you are interested in a view from the inside of a network newsroom, you should be reading Brian Williams’ blog at MSNBC. He’s the managing editor for NBC News, and his blog is a mix of behind-the-scenes nightly news assembly, daily commentary, and just a pinch of discussion that’s almost (but not quite) opinion (he is an anchor, after all!).

His appearance on the Daily Show last week was without peer; while he begged off pointing fingers, his comments on the disaster in New Orleans were poignant and carried the weight of a man who wil live with the visions of what he saw for years.

As for the President’s excuse today that what he meant to say when he said “nobody expected the levees to break” was that it was, well, the media’s fault, Williams digs up the transcript from NBC’s coverage that first night. The moral of the story? Maybe the President should turn off Fox News once in a while and watch NBC.

Why eBay bought Skype

So it’s now official: eBay bought Skype for $4.1 billion. That’s a lot of money, and probably buys at least a significant percentage of Estonia (economic peaks notwithstanding). Ross thinks that eBay bought Skype for the conversations this will facilitate; I have a slightly different take, though it’s more an elaboration of Ross’s point than a disagreement.

eBay already offers power sellers healthcare — and I think this acquisition allows eBay to become a powerful “virtual company” provider. Now power sellers can get their phone service from eBay — giving them a virtual storefront that goes wherever their laptop goes. If I’m right, then look for eBay to acquire one of the popular fax-to-e-mail providers before too long, and maybe even acquire (or build) their own web mail solution.

Some who read this blog may not know much, if anything, about Skype. It’s a fully-featured messaging platform, offering voice (computer-to-computer, computer-to-phone, and phone-to-computer), voicemail, and instant messaging. I wrote about it a while ago, and am pretty impressed with it. The acquisition by eBay insures it’ll only get better.

Friday, September 9, 2005

Anatomy of a Sale: Inc. Magazine

If you haven’t read this month’s Inc. Magazine, you’re really missing a great cover story — it details the sale by German publishing giant Gruner + Jahr’s sale of Inc. and Fast Company to Morningstar founder and CEO Joe Mansueto. It’s a great read, and really gives you an eye into the magazine business.

The ads congratulating Inc. (and Mansueto) from various advertisers were a nice touch in the print version. I think it’s safe to say nobody — advertisers, staff, readers — will miss G+J.

Three wishes on NBC

On the airplane back from New York today, United had an “exclusive” preview of NBC’s Three Wishes show. It debuts in two weeks, and all I have to say is that the tissue industrial complex is sneaky. I mean, they had their own cable channel (Lifetime), but that apparently wasn’t enough. Now they’ve gone network, and man, this show does everything but chop onions in your face to make you cry.

The premise is that country music star Amy Grant, accompanied by two dudes and some other girl show up in a small town, troll for the most heart-wrenching made-for-TV sob stories, then set about filming how great they are by granting the three wishes. The first episode (and I swear to you, I’m not making any of this up):

  • they find a young girl who was in a car with her father when their car was struck by another vehicle, and, Amy Grant patiently explains, “the bumper of the other car hit her face”. She’s missing parts of her skull, she wears a helmet to protect her brain, and she can no longer participate in the sports that she excelled in prior to the crash (gymnastics, softball, swimming). As if that weren’t enough, we learn that Mom, a 911 operator, was actually the one who took the call about the accident and had to be told while on duty that they were airlifting her possibly dying daughter to a hospital.

  • they find a young boy, who loves, loves loves his step-father. This boy lost his father at age 6, and the deputy sheriff in town stepped in and “saved our family”. The boy’s wish? Get adopted by his step-father. (More syrupy sweet goodness: Sheriff sold his coveted Ford truck to help the family make ends meet.)

  • finally, they found a group of cheerleaders (yay! cheerleaders! in uniform!) who wanted to get a new field for their football team. Apparently their field is so bad it’s basically a mud pit, and players are getting injured in the mud. But there’s more (no, really): their cheerleading coach is dying of acute leukemia, and though she can’t come to town to make the plea in person, the girls assure us that their coach really wants this field for the boys. (Sure enough, footage of the coach on her hospital bed confirms this.)

What transpires is an hour of NBC lavishing more money on this town than they know what to do with: they get Ford to give the Sheriff a new F-350. The SF Giants not only give Sheriff and family tickets to a Giants game, they get him on the field to throw out the first pitch. Not only does NBC foot the bill for a trip to Sacramento to get the girl to see specialists about reconstructive skull surgery, they build her a playhouse (complete with a donated “never ending pool” and a plasma TV). Then they put on a carnival (complete with Amy Grant belting out a few tunes) in which the town is asked to chip in money to cover all of her medical bills, but apparently the town comes up short because NBC kicks in the balance. And they get the boy adopted by his Dad. And they get a high-end astro-turf company to donate a $1m+ field to the school. In all, I’d guess the total value of everything donated on this one show alone amounted to $1.5m, maybe more. The tax implications are very real, and I wonder how these needy families (and/or towns) can afford to accept such largesse?

If this all makes me sound terribly cynical, maybe I am. But while I applaud anyone who seeks to do good (and Grant’s heart sure seems in the right place), the show itself was so saccharine, so cloying, so manipulative in its tear-jerking moments (all 178 of them) that it made it exceedingly hard to watch. I’m sure I’m not the target demographic, but still.

On a more serious note, I wonder if this vicarious philanthropy, in which viewers can watch needy individuals get showered with assistance, encourages people to give or (more likely, I’m afraid), makes it easier to feel like they don’t need to chip in.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Best connectivity is in the Bronx

Absolutely fantastic article over at the IEEE website about Urban Telephone and Video, two entrepreneurs who’ve delivered the “triple play” (phone, TV, Internet access) to households in the Bronx for $99/month. (Hat tip: Techdirt.) Here are two guys (Doug Frazier and Stuart Reid) who sum up their business strategy with a local saying:

“An old saying in this community is ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.’ And we realized long ago that once you begin to be about it, people will continue to let you be about it. So even though you’ve got something different or something new, if you’ve got the evidence that you aren’t just talking about it, people are going to pay attention.”

These guys compete with the heavyweights, continuously innovate their offerings, respond to their customers, and give back to the community. As they say, “New York City is so big and so dense that you don’t have to be terribly successful to be terribly successful.” I love it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Upgraded to MT 3.2

Just updated the application running this weblog to Movable Type 3.2. Will be updating you over the next couple days over comments, thoughts, etc. The UI is quite slick, there’s a lot of polish that went into this.

Stay tuned…

FEMA willing to help, so long as you use Windows

MSNBC reports on this troubling scenario over at FEMA’s website — namely, that you must be using Internet Explorer 6 (available on the PC only) in order to file a claim.

The shockingly, jaw-droppingly, appallingly incompetent actions of FEMA and others last week were bad enough. This is just plain stupid:

When reached Tuesday afternoon, a FEMA spokeswoman said they were aware of the problem and had passed it along to their tech guys to try to resolve the issue. The spokeswoman I spoke with declined to venture a guess on when the problem might be solved, however.

Folks. Designing a website that’s accessible to all is not rocket science, and the “Requires Internet Explorer version ___” went out of style about 6 years ago. Come on folks. I don’t think it’s too much to ask of our government (especially in a time of crisis) to try just a little bit harder to actually make their site work on more than one browser.

Saturday, September 3, 2005

Donate to the Red Cross

It’s been hard to comprehend the enormity of the devastation in New Orleans this week. The Red Cross has already collected an enormous sum of money, and is marshalling thousands of volunteers and tens of millions of dollars to help in the relief effort.

At FeedBurner, we wanted to do something to help support this effort, and have added a feature to your account that will insert a Red Cross banner ad into your feed. The ad looks like this:

It will get inserted as an ad banner in your feed, with a link back to the Red Cross site where visitors can contribute money. It’s a small gesture, to be sure, but seemed the least we could do to help (and to encourage others to do so as well).

If you have any questions, let me know. Thanks for helping.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Ernie in New Orleans

I swapped SMS messages with Ernie last night, and all was well (relatively speaking, of course). But according to the most recent post at his blog, a friend of his relays that things are getting a bit hairy:

NEWSFLASH: Making a break for it. At this point he is looking to escape the city – we are working in concert with state hotlines (if we can get thru), the news, the Internet and The Only Vincent to see if we can work him out of there somehow. Most roads are closed, water is rising and it’s just getting uglier. If anyone can comment on open roads, known (and safe) escape routes throughout the NW side of the city, please post asap. Helicopter anyone?

If anyone’s got a suggestion, feel free to e-mail me (rick@rklau.com) and I’ll forward it on to Ernie via SMS (the only way to contact him right now, as his cell service isn’t working and the phone lines are down).

Update: Ernie’s out, made it to Jennings, LA.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I Want Seth Stevenson's expense account

Seth Stevenson, whose Ad Report Card is a consistently great discussion of good and bad advertising, just wrapped up a week in Amsterdam. And wrote about it.

I want his expense account.

AstTapi for Asterisk

Geek alert: Joe, our excellent IT guy (seriously, he’s the best IT director I’ve ever worked with, and no, I’m not just saying that) recently set up our phone network using Asterisk, an open source PBX system. I’d remembered Joi setting up his Asterisk system a while back, and hadn’t really given it much more thought. It works, I like that it e-mails the voicemails to me (though, sadly, in a compressed .wav format which are currently unplayable on my Treo), and that the VoIP phone I’m using at my desk is pretty configurable.

But Joe mentioned being able to use Outlook to dial out, and I got a bit more interested. Turns out there’s another open source project, this one called AstTapi, which acts as a TAPI driver for Windows, which lets Windows interact with Asterisk. Pop-up windows when a call comes in, any application that can call out can now access the PBX to initiate a call.

Pretty cool. I’ve installed it, I’m just waiting for the green light to play around with it.

Anyone else out there have other tips/tricks for extending Asterisk?

Johannesburg, South Africa

Perhaps this kind of thing explains why Dave Chappelle fled to South Africa back in May?

(Link to news story spotted at Fark.com.)


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Emily Lord in Chicago next week

I’ve written about Emily Lord before (here and here), and I’m quite excited that she’ll be performing in Chicago next Thursday (9/1) at Hideout. The downside — the show’s at 11pm, which means my lovely wife can’t accompany me (rumor has it pregnant women need lots of rest). Robin’s being quite gracious in encouraging me to go, however (she remembers my comments about musical regrets a few months back, and knows that I’ve wanted to see Emily perform for 10 years, since my brother’s senior year at N.D.). Anyone care to accompany me?

Bonus musical shout-out: got an e-mail from the alumni department at my alma mater, Lafayette College, talking about 2000 grad Katie Todd, an up-and-coming artist. She’s performing in Chicago Saturday night at Metro with Dave Tamkin (who, oddly enough, I wrote about previously as well). I downloaded her single from iTunes (it was last week’s free download) and love it, it’s a great tune. You can hear more songs at the band’s MySpace site — and you can buy the whole album at iTunes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Search Engine Watch moves to FeedBurner

Cool: Danny Sullivan announced that they’re moving to FeedBurner over at Search Engine Watch, once he found out about our domain mapping service that lets publishers keep their feed URLs at their domain.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

FeedBurner on Channel 7 tonight

Check us out on Channel 7 tonight, during the 10pm newscast, when they do a segment on podcasting. Happy FeedBurner user Evan Brown will also be featured, so I’m told.

I’ll see if I can get a copy of the video up…

Update: The video is here.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Naperville Teachers Vote to Authorize Strike

Incredible: the District 203 teachers voted 92% tonight in favor of authorizing a strike if a contract agreement isn’t reached by Wednesday. We live in 204, so we won’t have to contemplate explaining to Ricky why he can’t start kindergarten on Thursday.

The School District’s reaction is here, while the teachers’ union explains its side here. (One bone of contention? The school district apparently breached a mutually agreed-upon media black-out, choosing to go public with its offer.)

Wednesday is supposed to be the first day of school… looks like it’ll come down to the wire.

Still here

Wow, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks. I just realized how little I’ve posted, and I’ve even received a few e-mails from folks asking if everything’s alright. Yes — doing great, in fact. Just insanely busy, and will likely be for another couple weeks. It’s a combination of a lot happening at FeedBurner, plus the third trimester “nesting” that causes Robin to want to redo every square inch of the house prior to the baby’s arrival.

Will get back in the groove soon…

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Illinois Democratic Party Website

Lots of comments recently about the Democratic Party of Illinois’ uninspiring web efforts to date.

I’ve written about this, in the past (as have a bunch of others), but never has someone taken the time to spell out in great detail what should be done. Larry Handlin at ArchPundit took the time, and the result is a goldmine.

Smoke Free Naperville

Today’s Naperville Sun has a story about a local group’s efforts to pass a law prohibiting smoking in Naperville restaurants and bars. (Naperville now has the option thanks to a recent bill signed into law by Governor Blagojevich, allowing cities to impose their own smoking limits/bans.)

I think this is a great idea; living in California a few years back, one of the joys was the complete lack of smoke in the restaurants and bars. I’ve already contacted the group to offer my help; will be interesting to see how this develops.

Blawg speaker in DC on November 2

Thanks to our pending arrival, I had to pass on a speaking opportunity in Washington, DC on November 2. The DC chapter of the ALA is hosting a session on blogs as marketing vehicles for law firms, and want to know if there’s someone in the DC area who can speak on the topic. If you’re interested or have a suggestion, drop me a line.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Ebert on Deuce Bigelow

Henry points to Ebert’s review of Deuce Bigelow 2…

One of the best Ebert Reviews in some time:
But Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” while passing on the opportunity to participate in “Million Dollar Baby,” “Ray,” “The Aviator,” “Sideways” and “Finding Neverland.” As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks. [One Man’s Thoughts]

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - Air and Space Museum

While in DC last week, I took the kids to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport. It’s part of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, created in part to display thousands of items that they just can’t fit into the museum on the Mall in Washington.

As a kid, I wanted to be a pilot. My grandfather was a civilian in the Air Force (he was a printer), and I grew up staring at posters of airplanes of all kinds, though my favorite was (and still is) the SR-71 Blackbird. My fascination with this plane started as a kid — I remember thinking it was the most exotic, other-worldly aircraft I’d seen. I read about its specs, its construction, the missions it had helped… if there was something about the SR-71 written, I found it and devoured it.

Imagine my glee at actually seeing an SR-71 in person. And then a Concorde. And the USS Enterprise, the “test” space shuttle NASA used to test the shuttle’s ability to glide after re-entry. The Enola Gay. A MiG. An F-15. An F-4. An A-10. And on and on.

It was one of the best museum displays I’ve seen; you don’t just get to walk around the base of the planes, you can walk up ramps and on cat-walks to see over the planes and look down on them. Interactive kiosks using Quicktime VR and touchscreens show you the interiors of every plane on display (maybe not all of them, but it sure seemed like a lot). And apparently noone knows about the museum: as spectacular a collection as it is, there was nobody there. No lines, no crowds around individual planes, nothing. As with all Smithsonian museums, it’s free.

If you find yourself in DC with an afternoon to kill, catch the shuttle bus from the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum on the Mall, and get yourself to the Udvar-Hazy Center. If you like air and space history, you’ll be overwhelmed at the collection.